Victoria Wren


In his The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon, David Seed writes:

"This particular act [Mélanie l'Heuremaudit's impaling during the ballet performance] relates back to the mythic significance of Victoria Wren's name, the wren being described in The Golden Bough as 'the Lady of Heaven's hen'. Frazer notes the custom of hunting the wren which is killed and then carried aloft on the end of a pole. Pynchon conflates Frazer and Stravinsky to produce a work which travesties both and which contains neither mythic meaning, solemnity nor transcendence." [1]

From The Golden Bough

"By many European peoples [...] the wren has been designated the king, the little king, the king of birds, the hedge king, and so forth, and has been reckoned amongst those birds which it is extremely unlucky to kill. [...] In Scotland the wren is called "the Lady of Heaven's hen [...]"
"the custom of annually killing the wren has prevailed widely both in this country [Ireland] and in France. In the Isle of Man down to the eighteenth century the custom was observed on Christmas Eve, or rather Christmas morning. On the twenty-fourth of December, towards evening, all the servants got a holiday; they did not go to bed all night, but rambled about till the bells rang in all the churches at midnight. When prayers were over, they went to hunt the wren, and having found one of these birds they killed it and fastened it to the top of a long pole with its wings extended. Thus they carried it in procession to every house chanting the following rhyme:

'We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for Jack of the Can,
We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for every one.'

The worshipful animal is killed with special solemnity once a year; and before or immediately after death he is promenaded from door to door, that each of his worshippers may receive a portion of the divine virtues that are supposed to emanate from the dead or dying god." (pp. 621-23) [emphasis added] [2]

From The White Goddess

"By his successful defiance of the ecclesiastics Robin became such a popular hero that he was later regarded as the founder of the Robin Hood religion [...] 'Hood' (or Hod or Hud) meant 'log' — the log put at the back of the fire — and it was in this log, cut from the sacred oak, that Robin had once been believed to reside. Hence 'Robin Hood's steed', the wood-louse which ran out when the Yule log was burned. In the popular superstition Robin himself escaped up the chimney in the form of a Robin and, when Yule ended, went out as Belin against his rival Bran, or Saturn — who had been 'Lord of Misrule' at the Yule-tide revels. Bran hid from pursuit in the ivy-bush disguised as a Gold Crest Wren; but Robin always caught and hanged him. Hence the song:
'Who'll hunt the Wren?' cries Robin the Bobbin.
Since 'Maid Marian' had been acting as Lady of Misrule in the Yule-tide revels and deserting Robin for his rival, it is easy to see how she earned a bad name for inconstancy." (p.397) [emphasis added] [3]


  1. Seed, David, The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon, University of Iowa Press, 1988 p.107
  2. Frazer, Sir James George, The Golden Bough, A study in Magic and Religion, The Macmillan Company, 1951, pp. 621-23
  3. Graves, Robert, The White Goddess, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1948, p. 397
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